Maybe A Voice Paints 1000 Words Too?

This morning I got the ITC email with an invite to write something for their quad-annual newsletter. I have written a few for them and they printed them. Very nice. Maybe this one too?

So this morning this happened so I wrote about it and submitted it. True Story.

An instructor came in this morning telling me that he was not going to reply to any more emails from online students about information that is in the course syllabus or the course calendar. I have heard this lament a hundred times before. From the instructor’s point of view, they know right where the information is because they agonized over the syllabus for days and they created the course calendar. In fact, they have probably seen and edited the darn thing a hundred times! And they put it in the course where they wanted it to be. They know it inside and out.

But from a student’s perspective it is different. First they have to find it. Most teachers clearly identify where these things are. Most, but not all. The students are then supposed to read all about the class. From email etiquette and cell phone policies to grading procedures and library hours! All of this is often covered in one five page document in a very terse and almost threatening manner. You know the kind of writing I mean. “If you miss _____ you will be ____. And all of that reading does not include the information on the course calendar or other documents with critical course information.

Should students read the syllabus and be held accountable for the information? Of course. Will they need reminding? Absolutely. So how can we get the needed information to students in a way they might recall more frequently than if they read the syllabus?
One way is to respond to those emails and remind them. But there are some ways to experience the textual syllabus in a different way, or at least in an additional way.

We encourage our instructors to give students a guided tour through the online class using a screencasting tool like Jing, Camtasia, or Screencast-o-matic. Whatever the tool, it gives the instructor a way to emphasize bolded text with all the power that comes with a human voice and it allows them to elaborate about critical elements in a way they may not be able to do in writing. This does a couple of things. It helps students actually “hear” the instructor and all the personality traits that can come along with that and it actually shows them where in the class the items are located.

I asked the teacher this morning if he went over the syllabus with his face-to-face classes. “Of course,” he said. Well, maybe he should do the same for his online students?

No doubt more and more are creating these course tours as part of the introduction to the class. Hopefully, sending them out a few days in advance of the class starting so students can become familiar with the structure of the class. As much as we have pushed this in our courses, only a small fraction of our teachers are actually doing it. Often it is not because they do not see the value in it, but rather they have not yet developed the skills to create these screencasts comfortably.

And for me, as the guy who is supposed to help them along this path of learning, I am tempted to say, “Next time a teacher asks me about screencasting I am just not going to respond. That information is all over our college website. It has been. For years.”

But I won’t. My job is to help people learn stuff. And that takes a lot of reminding.

That is what I think about that.

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